See Emily Play
|"See Emily Play"|
|Single by Pink Floyd|
|from the album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (US edition)|
|Released||16 June 1967|
|Recorded||21 May 1967|
|Studio||Sound Techniques, London|
|Label||Columbia (EMI) (UK)|
|Pink Floyd singles chronology|
"See Emily Play" is a song by English rock band Pink Floyd, released as their second single in June 1967. Written by original frontman Syd Barrett and recorded on 23 May 1967, it featured "The Scarecrow" as its B-side. It was released as a non-album single, but appeared as the opening track of the American edition of their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967).
"See Emily Play" is included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list and reached No. 6 in the United Kingdom singles chart. As of 2018, the song has never been mixed to stereo, so the US album version was rechannelled and all subsequent reissues have been in mono.
The song was reportedly about a girl named Emily, who Barrett claimed to have seen while sleeping in the woods after taking a psychedelic drug. According to A Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey, by Nicholas Schaffner, Emily is the Honourable Emily Young, daughter of Wayland Young, 2nd Baron Kennet, and the sister of author Louisa Young, and nicknamed "the psychedelic schoolgirl" at the UFO Club. An article in Mojo magazine called "See the Real Emily" supposedly shows a picture of Barrett's Emily. It has been suggested by some that the slide guitar effect was produced by Barrett using a Zippo lighter, but elsewhere that he used a plastic ruler.
The train depicted on the single's sleeve was drawn by Barrett.
The details as to the recording remain shrouded in mystery due to the lack of paperwork in the EMI archive. Engineer Jeff Jarrett recalls that "See Emily Play" was recorded in a much longer form which was then edited down for the single release. It was recorded at Sound Techniques studios on 21 May 1967. There was much trickery involved in the recording with backward tapes, much use of echo and reverb, and the first piano bridge between the first chorus and second verse was recorded at a slow pace then sped up for the final master. The four-track master tape was wiped or misplaced. It no longer exists and has never been mixed into true stereo; it was reprocessed for fake stereo on the 1971 Relics compilation.
Barrett, reputedly, was not happy with the final studio cut, and he protested against its release, which producer Norman Smith speculated was based on his fear of commercialism. It was during sessions for the song that David Gilmour visited the studio, and although being invited by Barrett, was shocked by the perceived changes in Barrett's personality when he did not appear to recognise him. For many years Gilmour would recall this, saying, "I'll go on record as saying, that was when he changed".
The US single (Tower 356) was released by Tower Records three times between July 1967 and late 1968. Each time it failed to duplicate its UK success. The song only stayed in the band's set list for a few months, and was last played on 25 November 1967 in Blackpool.
"See Emily Play" later appeared on a number of compilations: Relics (1971), Works (1983), Shine On (1992), Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd (2001), The Piper at the Gates of Dawn 40th Anniversary Edition (2007), The Best of Pink Floyd: A Foot in the Door (2011) and The Early Years 1965–1972 (2016). The song was also included on the Barrett retrospective An Introduction to Syd Barrett (2010).
Top of the Pops, BBCTV, July 1967
Pink Floyd performed the song three times on BBC TV's Top of the Pops. On each occasion, they mimed to the single, over which Barrett sang a live vocal. The BBC wiped the shows all of which were "live" transmissions. In late 2009 a badly damaged home video recording was recovered by the British Film Institute containing the first and third show the song was performed on, though only the first appearance was recoverable in part. The first performance was on the 6 July 1967 edition hosted by Alan Freeman. Parts of this performance have been recovered from the damaged video recording.
They returned for the following week's edition, 13 July, hosted by Pete Murray. Barrett complained that the band shouldn't appear, because "John Lennon doesn't do Top of the Pops". He did perform, but without the enthusiasm of the previous week. The recoverable parts of the 6 July performance were given a public screening in London on 9 January 2010 at an event called "Missing Believed Wiped" devoted to recovered TV shows. It was the first time any footage of the performance had been seen since its original broadcast. The Pink Floyd management used a copy of the footage in The Early Years 1965–1972.
Beat-Club, Radio Bremen, August 1967 (cancelled)
The band were booked to appear on this edition of Beat-Club. Barrett had suffered "nervous exhaustion" and the band managers decided to give the band a month-long break in the hope his health would recover. The appearance thus had to be cancelled.
Belgian TV, February 1968
In 1968, Pink Floyd travelled to Belgium where they filmed a TV special entitled "Pink Floid" (this misspelling is on the title credits) which featured lip-synched promotional films for "See Emily Play", as well as for "Astronomy Domine", "The Scarecrow", "Apples and Oranges", "Paint Box", "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", and "Corporal Clegg". This was Gilmour's first TV work with the band. Barrett was still technically a member of the band but it had recently been decided to no longer include him in gigs and shows. Gilmour, Roger Waters and Rick Wright thus had to mime to Barrett's vocals.
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"See Emily Play" has been covered by Canadian group Three to One (aka Okee Pokey Band) on the 1967 Yorkville album CTV After Four; David Bowie, for his Pin Ups album in 1973; Japanese group Salon Music, for their 1984 album La Paloma Show; The Grapes of Wrath, as a B-side on the 1991 CD single "I Am Here"; on the 1996 Games for May EP by perfect children; Arjen Anthony Lucassen, on his 1997 album Strange Hobby; The Changelings, on their 2002 album Astronomica; Judy Dyble, for her album Spindle; David West, on the 2001 bluegrass tribute album Pickin' on Pink Floyd: A Bluegrass Tribute; Martha Wainwright, on her 2008 album I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too; and by 3, on the 2008 re-release of their album The End Is Begun. John Frusciante has played it live. All About Eve played the song live c. 1992 and recorded a demo, which was not released until 2006 as part of the Keepsakes compilation. A parody appears on the 2013 album Cover Your Ears by French Canadian duo Sèxe Illégal. The song is renamed "Si Émile est gay" or "If Emile is gay". The song was played by Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets in 2018.
"See Emily Play" is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll" list.
- Syd Barrett – lead vocals, electric guitar, slide guitar
- Richard Wright – Farfisa organ, piano, tack piano, Baldwin electric harpsichord, backing vocals
- Roger Waters – bass guitar, backing vocals
- Nick Mason – drums
- Norman Smith – producer
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